As an intern with the food justice organization People’s Grocery in Oakland, California, I attend regular discussion groups with the other interns, in which we examine various issues of importance to the food movement. Yesterday’s discussion was fascinating.
The conversation centered around an article we had read describing the institutional racism inherent in the food production system in the United States. At every level of production – from picking the fruits and vegetables to serving customers at a restaurant – white people consistently make more money and work as managers more often than anyone else. And not because they have more experience. Clearly, this demonstrates how far we still need to go in this country before we’re actually walking the walk of equality.
Furthermore, it is a significant issue because it shows those of us interested in food justice that the movement is not only about the consumption side – increasing access to local, organic food, for example. It is also about ensuring fair treatment for workers on the production side. Industrial farms and food processing plants don’t only hurt animals and pollute or damage the earth. They don’t only result in food-like products that lack nutritional value and make us ill. They also exploit the workers, who are paid very little to perform jobs that can be quite dangerous, such as working with industrial machinery.
At its heart, the food justice movement is about achieving a food system that nourishes us and does not exploit people or resources. It is about creating a food system that is healthy, fair, and sustainable. Therefore, solidarity with movements to improve workers’ rights is a crucial aspect of the food justice movement, but one that is often overlooked.